When my husband studied at seminary, we had the privilege of meeting Christian brothers and sisters from all over the world. My new friends from China and South Korea were quite stunned that I enjoyed some of their traditional romcoms—with English subtitles, obviously. I’ve had my fill of the Hollywood classics, with their sanitised, feel-good endings. And so, I travelled east! There, stories are simultaneously familiar and strange. Nevertheless, the appeal and popularity of romance is just as evident. As Jonathan Leeman rightly puts it, “Love sells. Love is enticing.”
Valentine’s Day preaches the soulmate gospel.
For many Valentine’s Day is a day of great expectations, and excitement. For others it serves as another painful reminder that they’re alone. It’s a day that preaches the soulmate gospel. And those who spent it without another ‘half’ are pressured from various quarters to look harder, finding that person who’ll make them happy.
Can Romance Fulfil All Our Desires?
The word romance is continually tied up with love. The assumption is that being romantically swept off your feet is the best and only footing for marriage, and love. But is that really the case? And is romance the most important ingredient in a marriage?
Are our expectations for the marriage relationship too high?
As Tim Keller says in his famous article, “In generations past, there was far less talk about compatibility and finding the ideal soulmate. Today we are looking for someone who accepts us as we are and fulfils our desires, and this creates an unrealistic set of expectations that frustrates both the searchers and the searched for.” So the definition of true happiness is boiled down to when you get married. It’s true: marriage can bring about much joy. But more often than not our expectations for the marriage relationship are too high.
Will a Spouse Complete Me?
The other assumption behind our romance obsessed culture is the idea that a single person is ‘incomplete,’ and almost certainly very lonely. Therefore, the stakes are high. We must be dead certain that we marry the ‘right one.’ And, regrettably, the downside of this is that if we fail in our search we are devastated.
Our romance obsessed culture assumes that single people are almost certainly very lonely.
As children of the most visual generation to date, our perspectives on relationships, their purpose and intended function, are being radically altered by the narratives we immerse ourselves in. Therefore we ought to watch romcoms with a little more caution and discernment.
The Soulmate Myth
The term soulmate is often traced back to Plato’s Symposium where Aristophanes gives a speech. He says, “Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature. Each of us, then, is a ‘matching half’ of a human whole…and each of us is always seeking the half that matches him.” It is no wonder that romantic love is seen as a solution to our deepest longings.
Romantic love is seen as the solution to our deepest longings.
A soulmate myth says that there is a person out there perfect just for you. You were made for each other. This mindset is not only dangerous, it’s also selfish. For it reduces love to an easy set-up between two people fuelled by an endless supply of erotic feelings, requiring no hard work and sacrifice.
Romance, rightly understood, is enmeshed within a marriage that primarily defines love as a covenantal relationship between a man and a woman. Therefore, to put romance as the definitive value within a relationship or marriage is putting the cart before the horse. Furthermore, to prize romance without the pursuit of marriage is to make absolute what is only ever meant to be complementary.
Men and Women Cannot Live by Romance Alone
Although God reserves erotic love for the married man and woman, this does not mean the single person has been left to die. From the biblical perspective, the presence of a loving church community imitating Jesus’ selfless love and forging good friendships means one doesn’t have to face the world alone.
Dave Dunham goes as far as saying that romantic love cannot replace the critical role of other friendships. I thought it was a valid point to raise in a culture where friendship is viewed merely as ‘necessary social attachments.’ Especially when we consider the bond between David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:1-4). Furthermore, we have Jesus’ institution of this command: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Romantic love cannot replace the critical role of other friendships.
For the engaged and married person, it is only right and fitting to remember that your partner will never satisfy your heart’s deepest longings. So, ditch the soulmate myth. Instead, see yourself as broken, in desperate need of a Saviour. Only he can rescue from the tyrannical idol of romance. Only then will you realistically, as well as sacrificially, love and be loved by another flawed person.
Marriage is Great, but Glory Lies Ahead
Paul Tripp soberly reminds the married Christian when he says, “Paradise is to come. I am never married to a perfect person. That person will never be my Messiah. The person I am married to has no capacity whatsoever to change my heart. That person I am married to has no capacity whatsoever to bring satisfaction and contentment to my heart. They have no ability whatsoever to deliver me from my sin. They just have no ability to do any of that.”
Marriage is good when the people in that marriage realise they are not one another’s Messiah.
Tripp continues, “A good marriage is a good marriage because people in that marriage realise they are not one another’s Messiah. But they do not panic, because they have been given an adequate and sufficient Messiah who invades marriage by his grace and gives us everything we need to be who we are supposed to be and to do what we are supposed to do in marriage.”
Romance Disappoints, But God’s Love Never Fails
Our culture has reshaped romance to take on a salvific status. Therefore, as Christians, we must recall that God is the ultimate love who eviscerates the self-centredness in our hearts. Here, I speak to the married and unmarried alike. From the biblical perspective, God is love, but love is not God. As C. S. Lewis rightly puts it, “If affection is made the ultimate sovereign of a human life the seeds will germinate. Love, having become a god, becomes a demon.”
God is love, but love is not God.
We are often tempted in our distress to substitute God’s designs with our seemingly smarter choices. But, like Jesus with his acute hunger in the desert, we can speak back to the culture and loudly affirm: I shall not live by romance alone but by every word (and promise) that comes from God. He is enough.